Ina Garten’s Cauliflower Gratin ~ Updated!




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cauliflower gratin served up in a small bowl

I’ve made some subtle improvements to Ina Garten’s Cauliflower Gratin to make this top rated side dish even easier, and more delicious. Try it this holiday season with (or without) my tweaks, you’ll love it!

Ina Garten's cauliflower gratin recipe in a black casserole dish

Ok, claiming to update one of the Contessa’s recipes is pretty arrogant, I cop to that, because among all the celebrity chefs Ina’s recipes are consistently the most reliable. She’s known for being a meticulous recipe tester and it shows. But good food is an art, and artists can approach the same subject from slightly different angles with equally great results. And when you start with something amazing and make it a little bit better, everybody wins.

Whether you’re on team Ina or team Great Island, you’re going to love this classic side dish. It’s amazing either way 🙂

Cauliflower gratin in a black casserole, with spoon

Cauliflower gratin starts with a nice fresh head of cauliflower.

Fresh cauliflower is delicate, which is why you see it wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. Look for one that’s pure white and unblemished. If you see browning through the plastic (it’s not harmful, just a little oxidation) pass it up. Rummage until you find one that’s firm and snowy white. Look for fresh green leaves still attached.

For this recipe look for a head that is about 3 pounds. Once it’s trimmed and cored you’ll have the right amount. A little bigger is fine, but a smaller head might not fill your gratin dish.

a head of cauliflower, trimmed

It’s important to par cook the cauliflower before baking the gratin

Otherwise it won’t get cooked though and your gratin won’t have that soft melting texture that makes it famous. Ina boils hers in a big pot of water, pasta style.

UPDATE: No need for the big steamy pot of boiling water…pop the florets into a large microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic or a microwave cover, and cook for 4 minutes. Don’t add any water, there’s enough moisture in the cauliflower to steam it perfectly. This saves tons of time, avoids a watery gratin, and mushy cauliflower. Bonus, the cauliflower retains more of its nutrients with this cooking method.

cauliflower florets in a glass bowl

The creamy base of a gratin is a white sauce, or béchamel, in France.

UPDATE: Ina uses milk for her sauce, but I’ve tweaked that to 1 1/2 cups milk plus 1/2 cup cream. Again, this is a special occasion dish, and that bit of cream makes it special.  Also, adding cream helps insure that the sauce stays smooth and creamy, without curdling, as it bakes.

Ina boils her sauce for a minute before adding the cheese, but I don’t. As soon as I see the first bubbles I take it off the heat.  There’s no need to boil because the sauce has already thickened by that point.

Making a white sauce for gratin

Good sharp cheese is essential to creamy casseroles and gratins.

Creamy sauces seem to absorb flavor as they cook (this isn’t scientific, but definitely observed) and so I find you have to pay special attention to using strongly flavored cheeses and plenty of salt.  Ina uses Gruyère which is a good sharp French cheese. It’s pricey but this is a special occasion dish so I think worth it.  You could also use sharp cheddar but I sometimes find it doesn’t melt as smoothly.

UPDATE: Ina uses 1/2 cup of grated Gruyere in the sauce, I’ve upped it to one full cup so the flavor is noticeable and the sauce is extra cheesy. Don’t be tempted to increase the amount of Parm, though, that might be too sharp.

cauliflower gratin ready for the crumb topping

Assembly shortcut

Ina uses a layering technique in her gratin; she lays down a layer of sauce, then tops it with the cauliflower, and then spoons the remaining sauce over top.

UPDATE: I find it much easier, and better, to stir the cauliflower right into the saucepan with the cheese sauce and then turn everything into the gratin dish. It’s all mixed perfectly, and there are no naked florets hanging out without a coating of sauce. 

Ina Garten's cauliflower gratin ready for the oven

The crumb topping on a gratin is everybody’s favorite part

Diners will clash over who gets more of it on their plate. Don’t be surprised if an unscrupulous family member tries to siphon off more than their share 🙂

UPDATE: More is better when it comes to a crumb topping, especially when you mix it with cheese and melted butter. Ina uses 1/4 cup crumbs, but I’ve doubled that.

Ina calls for fresh breadcrumbs, but I think dried are better and crunchier for a gratin. I also make my own crumbs with herb crackers; it’s an instant flavor boost over plain crumbs.

spoon in a cauliflower gratin

Oven temperature matters

Gratins and cheesy casseroles are fairly easy to assemble, but I find that sometimes things can go wrong in the oven at the last minute. Ovens often run hot, and excess heat can ruin a gratin.

UPDATE: Ina bakes her gratin in a 375F oven. I’m sure this works great for her, but I’ve noticed over the years that higher heat can curdle a gratin (or mac and cheese) and ruin the texture. I prefer to play it safe at 350F and increase the temp at the end if I feel I need extra browning. This allows enough time for the sauce to get bubbly throughout, and the top to turn golden. Don’t be tempted to put this under the broiler, that’s a sure way to get the sauce to split and the crumbs to burn.

Speaking of temperature, Ina states that the dish can be served hot or at room temperature…I beg to differ, the dish needs to be hot.

A serving of cauliflower gratin in a small bowl

Classic casseroles for fall and winter

cauliflower gratin served up in a small bowl
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5 from 10 votes

Cauliflower Gratin

Ina Garten's Cauliflower Gratin made even better with a few easy updates ~ this casserole is our most requested side dish for holiday meals!
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Yield 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower (about 3 pounds)

Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (more to taste)
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (I used shredded Parm, if you're using the fine powdered version, use a little less.)

Crumb topping

  • 1/2 cup cracker or bread crumbs. I like to make crumbs out of seasoned crackers for extra flavor. Directions below in the notes.
  • 1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower and separate into florets. Separate or slice them into approximately 1 inch pieces. I like to leave the florets intact as much as possible because it looks pretty. Leave short sections of the stem on, they're delicious.
  • Put the cauliflower into a large microwave safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a microwave cover. (Do not add water.) Microwave on high for 4 minutes and set aside.
  • Toss the crumb topping ingredients together with a fork until everything is evenly moistened, and set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan and add the flour. Stir and cook for a minute, but don't let it brown.
  • Before adding the milk and cream, it's best to heat them up, and I do this in the microwave, just heat until hot to the touch. Slowly add the hot milk/cream to the flour mixture, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring this up to a boil over medium heat, stirring and scraping the sides of the pan almost constantly. When the mixture has thickened and you see the first bubbles, take off the heat. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  • Let the pan sit for a minute or so to cool slightly, then whisk in the cheeses. Stir until completely melted. Add the cauliflower (if there is any water in the bowl leave it behind) and fold in well.
  • Turn everything into your casserole dish and top with the crumb topping. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the whole casserole is bubbling and the top is starting to turn golden.

Notes

 

How to make cracker crumbs

Roughly break apart crackers and put them in a food processor (a small or large one will work)
Pulse repeatedly and then let the machine run until the crackers are finely ground.
Any extra crumbs can be kept in a zip lock baggie in the pantry.

Cauliflower gratin variation suggestions:

  • You can roast the cauliflower instead of microwaving it. 
  • Other cheese choices might be Smoked Gruyere, Manchego, Cheddar, Gouda, or Swiss.
  • Broccoli florets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, or thinly sliced potatoes can be used instead of cauliflower.
  • Add a dollop of mustard to the sauce for a little zing.
  • Add chopped ham.

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14 Comments

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  • Reply
    Carolyn
    October 2, 2020 at 8:12 am

    Sorry to leave this comment, because you had me wanting to make this until you started microwaving. An unhealthy way to heat food. It changes to molecular structure of the food. Also, plastic has been found to release carcinogens along with other harmful toxins into the food, which is then absorbed by our body. I’m going back to using Ina’s method. I’m already fighting cancer and don’t want to add more toxins to my body.

    • Reply
      Sue
      October 2, 2020 at 8:30 am

      Hey Carolyn ~ I’m so sorry you’re fighting cancer, I know how difficult that is. Actually, according to my research the idea that microwaving is unhealthy is a myth. There is lots of scientific research that proves this. Microwaving is actually the most healthy way to cook veggies because it is quick, and without water the nutrients are not drained away. No plastic, though, you’re right, I always use glass.

  • Reply
    Sandhya
    September 30, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    5 stars
    Your recipe for Cauliflower Gratin is so easy and delicious with lots of variation tips.

    • Reply
      Sue
      September 30, 2020 at 2:19 pm

      Credit goes to Ina, but I do think I tweaked it for the better 😉

  • Reply
    Jacque Hastert
    September 30, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    5 stars
    This sounds incredible and perfect for the holidays! I can’t wait to give this a test run before it makes a permant appearance on our menu.

    • Reply
      Joscelyn
      September 30, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      5 stars
      We always make broccoli cheese casserole for Thanksgiving but I think we’ll switch it up this year, thanks Sue!

  • Reply
    Carrie Robinson
    September 30, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    5 stars
    What a great idea for a side dish! Looks delicious. 🙂

  • Reply
    Beth
    September 30, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    5 stars
    Yummy! This looks so delicious and tasty! Can’t wait to give this a try!

  • Reply
    Chichi
    September 30, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    5 stars
    This is such a nice way to use cauliflower. I love it and make it a lot. Yum!

  • Reply
    Shadi Hasanzadenemati
    September 30, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    5 stars
    Love all the flavors here, I already know I’m going to enjoy this recipe a lot!

    • Reply
      Sue
      September 30, 2020 at 12:36 pm

      So true, how can you go wrong with these ingredients?

  • Reply
    Marcy
    September 30, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    YUMMMM … I find that EVERY recipe is a “starting point” and needs to be tweaked according to your tastes – even Ina’s recipes. For instance, she uses too much salt for my taste, I always cut it back to 1/2 to out entirely.

    I think your “updates” look great! Can’t wait to try with the different method (makes sense to me!)!

  • Reply
    Patty
    September 30, 2020 at 5:54 am

    5 stars
    Recipe looks yummy. Your directions are easy and informative. What kind of herb crackers should I use? I generally use a plain ritz but would like to try something different.

    • Reply
      Sue
      September 30, 2020 at 6:43 am

      I love Ritz 🙂 but you can use literally anything, I like a buttery herbed cracker for this, really any seasoned cracker from Carrs, Miltons, Breton…